#1 Best Seller
For the past ﬁfteen years, I have researched, experienced, shared, discovered and
taught the power of passion. Nik Halik’s book is a beautiful and inspirational
example of ‘passion in action’. If you have not yet discovered what your passion is,
or how it could be possible for you to pursue it, then this book will be a magniﬁcent
resource. Passion in my deﬁnition is a source of ‘unlimited energy from your soul,
your spirit, your heart’, and Nik wisely and practically shows you how and why it
is necessary to overcome the fears from your mind that block you from pursuing
I agree with Nik: you have been designed by God, by the Universe, by whatever
force you acknowledge, to pursue your passions with passion. The Thrillionaire®
will ‘thrill you to bits’! Read it, absorb it, and burst out of any of your ‘mind-
Charles Kovess, Australasia’s Passion Provocateur
The Thrillionaire® is dedicated to my father
1930 – 1993
Make your life an epic extraordinary adventure
Foreword by Bob Proctor
As I begin to reﬂect on the magnitude of this project, I often think back on
the chapters that were written in exotic locations across the planet. Most of
the writing was undertaken in the Great Pyramid of Giza, on the balcony of
my cabin sailing down the Nile River in ancient Egypt or on a yacht sailing in
the Greek islands of the Mediterranean. Others were written whilst living on a
military base in Russia at the world’s leading training facility for orbital space
missions, in a storm-chasing vehicle in the heartland of America ﬂeeing the
path and destruction of menacing tornadoes or on a private scientiﬁc research
vessel in the remote and pristine wilderness of the Antarctic Peninsula with its
unspoilt frontier, considered to be the most beautiful place on earth.
With regards to my journey so far in life, there are quite a few individuals I
would dearly love to thank. Firstly, my mother Dionisia for providing so much
support and love for me. You always believed in me and exhibited incredible
determination throughout my life. You are the foundation of the family and
your love for us all is our strength. My sister Victoria for your twenty-four-hour-
a-day commitment and unconditional support. Your constant commitment to
selﬂess contribution makes an incredible diﬀerence. To my sister Georgia for
your humour and wit and my brother Jim for your heart of gold and ever-
increasing respect. To my nephews Kosta, Oscar, Dion and Felix, dream big
and live with passion.
To my good friend, Bob Proctor for your wisdom, dedication to the personal
development industry and for instilling in me the belief that we were all
born rich. Also to Brian James, Bev Friend and Neil Kearney for being such
outstanding examples of integrity and compassion for inspiring me to write The
Thrillionaire®, I thank you for your promotional, media and publicity expertise.
Also to all the staﬀ of Pennon Publishing and New Holland Publishing, thank
you for your faith in me.
To my incredible and phenomenal team of loyal partners, associates and team
leaders in my global group of companies who maintained the integrity of the
vision to transform lives across the globe. You tirelessly followed me around the
world, at all times nurturing and cultivating client relationships and remaining
supportive. Thank you for your inspirational dedication, passion, commitment
and respect. A great deal of gratitude to Wolfgang, Claude, Renee, Amanda,
Janet, Ben, Warren and Grace Black, Financial Freedom Institute, Adventure
Odyssey®, The Intelligence Group and Web Business Institute team for your
on-going commitment to excellence.
To all my clients who have attended my events and seminars worldwide, I
acknowledge you for your participation and the fact you took massive action.
For all the logistics staﬀ who have assisted with the running of our Mind and
Wealth Prosperity events in over ﬁve continents, thank you for your enthusiasm
To the ‘Ice Man’ Peter Bland, Johnny Wimbrey, Matt Morris, Tony Michael,
Eric Anderson and Richard Garriott for your friendship and inspiration. You
all have a fascinating story and I cherish our friendship. A special thanks to the
boys from Big Deal past and present. Those were some fun touring years in the
music industry. In fact I am still laughing.
And ﬁnally, thank you to the Panos family, my adopted family in the United
States. You were a beacon of light for me when I relocated to Los Angeles in my
late teens. Also to my many friends and relations across the globe, I cherish and
respect our associations. You are all incredibly unique in my life.
To the giants whose shoulders I stand upon, the mentors who have shaped my
life, philosophy, wisdom and unwavering determination, I acknowledge you in
The Thrillionaire® and salute you.
Chapter 1 The Thrillionaire® 14
Chapter 2 Journey to Titanic 21
Chapter 3 Life origins 43
Chapter 4 A new window onto the world 56
Chapter 5 Bulls and Bedouins 63
Chapter 6 Evolutionary psychology 75
Chapter 7 Space exploration 88
Chapter 8 Unveiling the money matrix 104
Chapter 9 Seven Summits quest 114
Chapter 10 Money and the education factory 129
Chapter 11 Tornado storm chasing 139
Chapter 12 Multiple pillars of income 151
Chapter 13 The birth of Adventure Odyssey® 172
Chapter 14 Sleeping with giants 178
Chapter 15 Soyuz TMA 13 Mission 190
Chapter 16 Life force energy 197
Appendix Testimonials 201
W E HEAR A LOT OF TALK TODAY ABOUT MILLIONAIRES and billionaires,
but never before have I seen the word ‘Thrillionaire®’. However,
it ﬁts Nik Halik to a tee.
I have worked in the personal development industry for close to forty years.
I have travelled to numerous countries and have worked in as many cultures
and there are any number of people who give our program credit for becoming
millionaires. I am ﬂattered that Nik has endorsed my company’s ‘Born Rich’
program and credits it with inspiring him to accomplish the phenomenal feats
that have taken him to outer space and to the depths of the ocean. But Nik
is the ﬁrst one to give us credit for him becoming a Thrillionaire®. I love the
Directly behind my desk I have the New Lexicon Webster’s dictionary. In it, I
have found the word thrill and thriller but nowhere in the dictionary have I
found the word Thrillionaire®. Not only does Nik Halik travel to places no one
has ever been before, he’s creating words that no one has ever heard before.
But again, that ﬁts Nik Halik to a tee. He’s an extraordinary individual and his
uniqueness comes out at you from every page in this book.
In the very early part of the book, Nik quotes J Paul Getty where Getty shared
some fantastic advice, ‘When eighty per cent of the newspaper sentiment is
saying to buy, you should sell. Equally, when eighty per cent of the newspaper
sentiment is saying to sell, you should buy.’ Getty was, at one time, the wealthiest
man in the world. Nik Halik knows where to go for advice. And, if and when
he does follow someone else’s advice, he makes sure the person has done what
they’re telling him to do. He took Getty’s advice seriously and became a very
wealthy man. But, as I’ve already mentioned, Nik is unique: he is deﬁnitely a
unique individual who cuts his own path. He doesn’t even follow that small
percentage of the population who has created wealth. Nik is not fascinated
with cars, planes and homes. He wants to use the money he has created to serve
him in fulﬁlling his deep desires.
As you go from page to page, from story to story, you’re going to be shaking your
head wondering how this man developed such an extraordinary personality.
He deﬁnitely is a Thrillionaire® and an excellent writer indeed. Nowhere in
the book are you going to be left bored, the way he puts the words together,
he paints beautiful pictures in your mind and does, in fact, take you on his
journeys with him. You’ll quickly see this man is in excellent physical shape,
or he would never be able to accomplish what he has accomplished or what he
plans to accomplish on a normal diet or exercise program.
I have a magniﬁcent library of over 3,000 books. I can assure you Nik Halik’s
The Thrillionaire® will sit in a favourite place. As you journey through these
pages, try and remember that each fascinating journey Nik has gone on was the
result of a decision he made to improve the quality of his life. These decisions
are deﬁnitely bringing his God-given potential to the surface. I once read where
George Bernard Shaw stated that when he died, he wanted to be thoroughly
used up. It is my opinion that Nik Halik subscribes to that sentiment.
It would not be diﬃcult for me to continue writing paragraph after paragraph,
praising this extraordinary man, his accomplishments in this book. However
I feel it’s time for you to dig into it yourself. Get a comfortable place to sit
and make certain that you have the time to keep reading, as you will not want
to lay this book down. And, if you have a very dear friend who you enjoy
sharing things of value with, you should deﬁnitely give them a copy of The
Best-selling author of You Were Born Rich
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – Lao Tzu
I N AN AGE WITH SO MANY DISTRACTIONS VYING FOR OUR ATTENTION, simply
by reading The Thrillionaire® you are demonstrating your commitment to
taking the inaugural step in setting yourself apart from the masses. No
matter what a person’s status or level of achievement in society, those who have
reached a pinnacle of success in life do not rest on their laurels. No person can
become so astute in any mental faculty, that they are not able to further raise
their level of awareness.
The universe cannot put good into your hands until you let go of what you
are holding in them. The most powerful prosperity tool is wisdom and by
increasing it, your wisdom will always manifest a corresponding compounding
increase in wealth. Hence, we are born to evolve and thrive on change in order
to harness new energies and opportunities.
The Thrillionaire® will communicate to your inner emotions and stir the ﬁres
of your soul. It will enrich your life and guide you to the keys of Mind and
Wealth Prosperity. You now hold within yourself this principle of power that
contains the solutions to a brighter future, a path to greatness and the formula
for reaching your peak potential. With the absolute awakening of this principle,
your mental faculties will be intelligently sculptured and coherently aligned
towards inﬁnite greatness.
Today is a good day. Your dream has never been closer than it is at this exact
instant. You will vividly visualise the image of what you desire in your mind.
As you plant the seeds for your future prosperity, the words you speak will
reﬂect the prosperity consciousness you possess. This discovery of your true
assignment will allow the universe to provide to you your next assignment
when you are overqualiﬁed for this one. Your beliefs will change as you will
allow yourself the luxury of critical thinking. Like writing a movie script of
your vision, you will be involving all of your senses. You will ascertain that
your mind is an instrument for poverty or prosperity. This transformation of
thought process will bypass your conscious resistance and connect you to the
deeper levels of your emotions.
In summary, my illumination is that you will draw a line in the sand and
integrate your newly inspired internal representation of core beliefs. You will
have the assignment of opportunity to re-program the most powerful computer
in the world – your mind, to become prosperous. Understanding that the mind
is not an object but merely an activity, your mind will develop into an ‘image
maker’ governed by universal law. I encourage you to subscribe to, enrol and
nurture others into your newly discovered vision, where dreams become reality.
In the end it just comes down to one thing. You can’t run from the wind. You
face reality. You face the world. Untie the mooring lines of limiting beliefs that
hold you back from success. You trim your sails and maintain momentum. I
encourage you to set sail on a voyage of evolution. I look forward to greeting
you on the other side.
Live with passion and dare to dream. Make your life an epic extraordinary
Yours in prosperity,
Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a
trail – Ralph Waldo Emerson
M Y CELL PHONE RANG, AND CALLING ME WAS A PRODUCER FROM
the British production company making the television program
Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous for European and North
American viewers. He had heard about my investment exploits, my obsession
with extreme adventures and how I’d literally go to the ends of the earth to
fulﬁl my dreams. The call was early 2007, and the producer was eager to ﬁlm
a segment with me for the international program. He just needed to establish
exactly what possessions they could ﬁlm. First up, he asked me what cars I
I was a bit slow answering, so he started to quote the names of the most exotic
‘Lamborghini or Ferrari?’ he asked.
I was still thinking of what to say.
‘Well, not exactly …’ I answered.
‘I get it,’ he went on, ‘you’re a Porsche man.’
‘So, you’re a James Bond kind of guy. You like action. I bet you’ve got an Aston
Martin locked away.’
‘Oh, I do like Aston Martins,’ I replied. ‘But no, I don’t have one in the garage.
Actually, I don’t own a car.’
The telephone line seemed to go dead for a few seconds.
‘Aah, you’re a boat man,’ the producer spouted optimistically. ‘You’re a sailor?’
I felt a bit embarrassed. ‘I like yachting, yes, but, I’m sorry, I don’t have a yacht
He was speechless.
I explained to him that my golden rule thus far was to not invest in anything
that moves, and that’s why I didn’t have a car, a boat or even works of art.
I then enlightened him that with regards to investing, for the last eighteen
years I have aggressively subscribed to an asset accumulation and compounding
regime of my life and have not entertained the idea of purchasing liabilities
It is alleged that Albert Einstein, arguably one of the most intelligent people
who ever lived, was asked what he thought was the greatest of mankind’s
discoveries. His candid answer is also alleged to have been: ‘compound interest’,
the eighth wonder of the world and ‘the greatest mathematical discovery of all
time.’ I provided this insight to the producer that to be a successful investor,
it is important to understand the laws that govern investment growth and the
mathematical laws of how compounded money really grows.
The producer decided that they would proceed with the ﬁlming anyway, no
doubt assuming that they’d get plenty of interesting footage out of my asset-
rich business portfolio and a preview of my thrill seeking adventures. I make
no apology for not ﬁtting the stereotype of a person who has wealth and the
trappings of it. Most people equate wealth with the trappings, the luxury items
and opulence. I’m not into any of that. I guess I come from outside the square.
People have this stereotypical view that wealthy people should be glamorous.
The glamour aspect doesn’t grab me. I’ve always believed that wealth isn’t just
about what you can buy. Wealth is a like a four-legged table. The monetary
aspect is just one leg. The other quadrant legs include emotional wealth,
spiritual wealth and physical wealth.
Real wealth is having an abundance of ideas and a strong belief system which
underpins everything you do in life. Ninety-nine per cent of what I consider
to be wealth is derived from one’s belief system. The monetary strategies to
become ﬁnancially abundant comprise just one per cent of the equation. I
recall my earlier life which was more money focused and orientated, whereas
these days I am more cause orientated. In life there is no sense in possessing
great ﬁnancial wealth and not being happy. Equally, there’s no point in being
rich and being physically unwell.
Individuals who seek status symbols in life have a ﬁxation on synthetic wealth,
because they need something to reassure them artiﬁcially so they can impress
others they don’t particularly like. I am the type of personality to save, invest
and attain self-mastery for the long term, rather than some people who blow
their cash on Ferraris and young third wives. People should feel good about
themselves because of what they are, and what they do – not what they have
in their garage.
But, as I said, I don’t consider things that move to be an investment. My number
one rule in an Accumulation Asset Phase® of one’s life is to not invest in anything
that moves, unless you have a validated reason. Can you name something
that appreciates in value that moves? An automotive will need to be a classic
vintage in order for it to appreciate. The mandatory rule is that you adequately
furnish your mind and ensure your ﬁnancial foundation has been solidiﬁed and
primed to erect your skyscraper and monument to your existence. Welcome to
Financial Prosperity as opposed to Financial Cancer.
With a mosaic of colourful experiences available to all of us – I ﬁnd it more
appealing to drill deeper into life. I continually invest in a new vision or
paradigm, participating in extreme adventures, that I am sure many people
would ﬁnd quite bizarre. A life of prosperity is a series of assignments,
each one, helping you grow, developing your talents, and expanding your
consciousness. As your consciousness grows, so does the impact you make
and the inﬂuence within your inner circle. With this obsessive desire to
acquire the ancient principles of enlightened living, I have already visited
over eighty-ﬁve countries in my quest for adventure. I have dived down to
the deepest abyss of the oceans, rocketed to the edge of space and summited
the world’s highest mountains, just to name a few.
When I was a young boy, I developed my Top 10 ‘Hit List’ of goals to achieve
in my life. I must have had quite a vision because that hit list is still relevant
thirty years later. I strongly believe that there are no coincidences in life. A
higher consciousness individual understands how prosperity laws work. A
person with a compelling dream actually bends the universe to their will
and strives for a unique constellation of attributes. I have three major goals
remaining from my original Top 10 Hit List, which include summiting the
highest mountain peak in the world, Mt Everest, visiting a space station
orbiting up to 300 miles above the Earth and ﬁnally, to explore the lunar
surface of the moon. This enlightened living and the manifesting of new
frontiers in exploration, will serve as the next chapter in the evolution of my
In early adulthood, my pivotal mentor was a peak performance lecturer,
author and entrepreneur by the name of Bob Proctor, who instilled in me
the belief that we were all born rich. For forty years, Bob Proctor has helped
create lives of prosperity, rewarding relationships, and spiritual awareness.
Born in northern Ontario Canada, Bob stresses the ideas of positive thinking
and self-motivation. Bob was all about ‘Nik, tell me what you want and
I’ll show you how to get it.’ Until I met Bob Proctor, I used to regard the
word rich from a monetary perspective, but later I developed the faculty
awareness to drill deeper on what he said. Bob recalled that we were all born
equal, with equal opportunities and an abundance of potential. Prosperity
was our natural birthright and we all possessed the same colouring marker set
with which we can make our mark in life. Some of us choose black markers
and white markers. Others embrace a colouring book set with a myriad of
colours. Bob really had the ability to reduce the most complicated concepts
in life to the simplest form.
Just recently one of my companies, Financial Freedom Institute, hosted
one of the most anticipated Mind and Wealth Prosperity seminars in the
US called Wealth Celebrities®. The Wealth Celebrities® event in Los Angeles,
California provided a forum for the planet’s most distinguished speakers to
inspire, connect, contribute and stir the soul. I invited Bob Proctor as my
keynote speaker and it was a privilege to share the stage and to be reunited
with him again. It was also an occasion and opportunity for me to reciprocate
and pay homage to his inﬂuence in my life. I was thrilled to share the exploits
of my life with Bob and I sincerely thanked him. My mind had the magnetic
power to attract all that I desired into my life.
The purpose of a deﬁnitive life is one that provides an oasis of enlightenment.
This is the secret kindling to ignite the inner ﬁre that lurks within us all. We
all have it, some individuals make the unconscious decision to extinguish it
and maintain it devoid of illumination. In life we are only measured by our
contributions. It’s what you give out in assisting other people to achieve their
goals, once you achieved yours. Socrates said: ‘The best human is all humans put
together’. I don’t believe we should ever be totally satisﬁed with where we are in
our lives. There’s always the opportunity to raise our level of awareness and seize
the day, carpe diem. By redeﬁning our lives and seeking new vantage points,
we inadvertently remove the ‘IM’ out of the word IM-possible. The Bannister
Principle is an excellent reﬂection of this theory. In 1954, an Englishman, Roger
Bannister ran the distance of a mile in under four minutes ... even medical
experts cautioned that it was impossible to run the mile in under four minutes.
Within nine months of Bannister’s feat, thirty other runners achieved the
milestone too. When he was asked to explain that ﬁrst four-minute mile – and
the art of record breaking – he answered with original directness: ‘It’s the ability
to take more out of yourself than you’ve got.’ We can incorporate the Bannister
Principle and implement it into the interior of our personal and business life.
One of the portraits I have on my wall in my oﬃce is a picture of a mousetrap
and a mouse. What do most mice do? They come head on into the trap, ﬂirt
with the cheese and get caught. But the mouse on this portrait reminds me
of the heist scene from the movie Mission Impossible with Tom Cruise. This
particularly astute mouse on the poster has shimmied down on a vertical wire
to the mousetrap to claim its cheese reward. The mouse is thinking outside
the square. That’s my mantra. Approach everything in life from a diﬀerent
angle. Unfortunately, most wandering souls approach everything in life from
the same myopic angle, thus fuelling the tyranny of impoverished thinking,
whereby they lose their faculty of thinking and remain captives of their negative
It is mandatory for us to cultivate our mind, hence allowing it to blossom
beyond our expectations. I sincerely believe that this is the secret of happiness,
where we truly ﬁnd what we dearly love to do and then direct all of our energy
towards doing it. Once we ﬁnd out what our life’s work is, we transform and
undergo a sea of change and feel alive. We wake up every morning with a
limitless reservoir of energy and enthusiasm for life.
My obvious enthusiasm for life has attracted lots of global attention. The
television and print media of late have proclaimed me ‘The Thrillionaire®’.
They have classiﬁed me into a Thrillionaire® archetypal character, with my
own passion points, consuming habits and creative style. With my life, I was
not born into Old Money, ﬁne art and privilege. My reﬁnement and later
sophistication of the mind was as a result of redeﬁning my sense of purpose. I
ultimately believe it is our responsibility to leave the world a better place than
that we found it. It’s the legacy we leave behind, the footprints we leave in
history that count. We need to focus on the passions and motivations that
radiate an abundance of vitality and energy in our lives, rather than just the
size of our wallets. I am the new breed of moneyed traveller looking for high-
octane adventure. Thrillionaire®s are individuals who understand the thrill of
giving, and share their stories so that others will become inspired to become
Thrillionaire®s themselves. Just like an inner compass guiding them towards
Look around. There is an abundance of thrills to be experienced. The quality of
our thinking determines the quality of our life. We need to collect our change
every day and give it to something that warms our heart. Everybody has a gift
to give. If you put coins in somebody else’s parking meter, send money to a
child in need, sponsor endangered animals, collect change for UNICEF, give
away your personal belongings to charity, lead an exhilarating heart pounding
adventurous lifestyle or write a check for a massive cash donation, you are a
The book, The Thrillionaire® is about my self-discovery, the exploration of my
identity and mission in life. It is about wisdom I have embraced from various
mentors in my life and the vision that has established my system of empowering
beliefs. I created a model of the world, a map of the world that allowed me
to perceive the greatest number of available choices and perspectives. The
Thrillionaire® details my stories of adventure interspersed with ﬁnancial wisdom
and is purposely set out the way it is. I sincerely invite you to immerse yourself
and share the powerful insights with others.
Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look once in a while, you’ll miss it.
THE THRILLIONAIRE® PRINCIPLE
• Once we ﬁnd out what our life’s work is, we transform and undergo a
sea of change and feel alive. What is your life’s work?
• It’s the legacy we leave behind that shapes your life, what will your
• Everybody has a gift to give, what will your gift be to the world?
Journey to Titanic
If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to it – Jonathan Winters
I T ALL BEGAN WITH A NIGHT AT THE MOVIES. I had arranged to take my sister
Victoria to see Titanic, the 1997 ﬁlm about the immortalised ‘unsinkable’
ocean liner that struck an iceberg, sending more than 1,500 people to a
watery grave. A night at the movies doesn’t usually lead to the most memorable
experience of a lifetime – but that night did. Something truly bizarre happened
during the screening. In hindsight, I guess it was a premonition of how close
I would eventually come to history’s most famous shipwreck. The Titanic saga
has captivated me ever since I was a small child.
I feel a personal connection because hundreds of passengers on board were
immigrants ﬂeeing their homeland and travelling to America, considered the
new world, to pursue their dream of starting a new life.
My aﬃnity with them is because my parents were also immigrants. My mother
and father boarded ships out of Greece bound for Australia to start new lives
in a continent they knew so little about. I’m sure the migrant experience isn’t
half as romantic as it sounds. Most immigrants have to leave their families and
friends behind because they see no future in their homeland. The optimism of
the migrant is an emotion that’s born of despair.
On board Titanic, there were hundreds of people in the lowest class, steerage.
When the ship went down, they were locked in, trapped, and most perished in
the icy waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. There were 2,228 people on board
Titanic when she crashed into that massive iceberg on the night of April 15th,
1912. Only 705 survived. Not only was it one of the worst maritime disasters
in human history, but it was one of the most amazing. So many quirks of fate
conspired to create the unthinkable. For starters, it was a moonless night. There
was no reﬂection on the water. It was well nigh impossible for the ship’s crew to
see the monster lurking in the fog. Titanic weighed over 50,000 tonnes – she
was the largest and most opulent ship in the world. She was a palace on the
The Titanic was the grandest ship of her time. She was majestic, lavishly
decorated and considered unsinkable because four of her sixteen watertight
compartments could be ﬂooded without endangering the ship. The Titanic was
divided into social classes according to background, wealth and education. The
ship’s passenger list was a cross-section of early 20th century society. On board
were some of the wealthiest people in the world – a Who’s Who of business
and commerce types from the Old World of Europe and the New World of
the Americas. And down in third class, steerage, were hundreds of desperate
immigrants, all hoping that America might give them a fresh beginning. They
were bound for the land of opportunity.
It was Titanic’s maiden voyage, which added to the pageantry and intrigue
surrounding the vessel’s departure from the mother country. All this drama
was set against the backdrop of the new century, the last years of the industrial
revolution. In a few years, the world would be at war. But, in 1912, the movers
and shakers were enraptured by what engineering marvels they could build.
There was a mood of optimism in the air.
James Cameron’s movie of Titanic carried the same sense of anticipation. James
Cameron is an Academy Award winning director, producer and screenwriter
noted for his action/science ﬁction ﬁlms. Cameron directed the ﬁlm Titanic,
which went on to become the top-grossing ﬁlm of all time, with a worldwide
gross of over US$1.8 billion dollars. He also created the Terminator franchise
starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Titanic was hailed as a blockbuster, so Victoria
and I decided to see it at what we regard as the best cinema in our home city,
JOURNEY TO TITANIC
Melbourne. The Gold Class theatre at Crown Casino is quite exclusive and
seats only twenty-ﬁve people. With a vast screen and truly captivating cinematic
auditory experience, the cinema design of the Gold Class Theatre was designed
to recreate the acoustics and ambience of the movie studio. So, for a three hour
major epic about the most dramatic shipwreck in history, I wanted to bathe in
the myriad of sensations. I certainly wasn’t disappointed.
About two hours into the ﬁlm, when the ship started to take on water in the
movie, and the bow was ﬁlling up quickly, a freakish incident occurred. I had
wanted to soak up the experience, but I hadn’t expected that art would imitate
life so closely. At the moment the ship was about to split in two, the cinema’s
sprinkler system activated. Water sprayed down from the ceiling and, within
seconds, we were drenched. Talk about reality ﬁlm-making! I was so caught
up in the unfolding drama that it took me a few seconds to realise what was
actually happening. Perhaps it was an omen. As a result of seeing that ﬁlm,
I seized the opportunity to get as close to the real Titanic as any person can.
The absurdity of the drenching and the extraordinary co-incidence provoked
laughter from the some of the soaked cinema fans. Others left immediately,
leaving a watery trail as they ﬁled out. People waiting in the foyer gave us weird
looks as we emerged from the cinema, looking like we had just climbed out
of a swimming pool in our Sunday best. Because there was no chance that the
audience could resume their seats, the cinema management kindly oﬀered us
tickets to see the movie another time. I couldn’t wait to get back and see the
Ever since I ﬁrst read about Titanic in the family’s encyclopedia, I had been
enthralled by the story. Everything about Titanic was a curiosity. I remember
reading how Titanic had four funnels, yet only three of them worked. In the
day when the White Star Line commissioned construction of Titanic, the more
funnels a ship had, the more prestigious she was considered to be. Having
four funnels was a sign of grandeur, but only three of Titanic’s ever had steam
coming out. If you see old drawings of Titanic, you might notice that she was
often depicted with steam coming out of all four funnels. After the sinking
of the Titanic and her sister ship Britannic, legend has it that shipping lines
considered it unlucky to build a vessel with four funnels.
So a week after that original soaking, Victoria and I were back in the Gold
Class theatre, and we watched the Titanic movie right through to the last
frame. I didn’t miss a frame of it, but I had a special reason to scrutinise the
closing credits. I had been enchanted by the opening sequence, which featured
modern-day images of the wreck. The pictures were so beautiful, so surreal.
Here, in all her glory, was the legend. When the credits came on, I studied
them to see if there was any mention of how the cinematographers had been
able to ﬁlm that opening sequence with the submersibles. Titanic lies on the
ﬂoor of the North Atlantic Ocean, about 3,750 metres below the surface. To
get down to that depth, and to actually ﬁlm a wreck some ninety years after
she sank, was an incredible achievement. As I sat through the movie, I kept
thinking: If they could ﬁlm the actual wreck, maybe I could go down there. So,
I scanned the credits just as attentively as I had watched the ﬁlm. And there it
was, the following Russian entities were thanked as part of the deep sea dive
– Kaliningrad-based, PP Shirshov Institute of Oceanology and the Russian
Academy of Sciences. My mind started racing. In those credits was the clue that
could lead me to one of the most exciting adventures of my life.
I had previously made contacts at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Space Centre
in Russia during my Orbital Space Program activities in 2003, so I contacted
the Shirshov Institute and was put in touch with someone who might be able
After several phone calls I discovered that the MIR submersibles which were
used in the deep sea dive during the making of the Titanic ﬁlm had journeyed
down to the wreck once every few years, carrying scientists, marine biologists,
historians and some privileged paying enthusiasts. Paying enthusiasts? Yes! I
vowed that – whatever it took – I would go down there and view the ship for
In early 2005, my chance came. I was invited to undertake a dive down to the
most famous sunken ship in history. Initially I was asked to complete all sorts of
tests, just to ensure that I was physically and mentally suitable for the adventure.
There were medical and psychological tests that I had to undertake.
They were particularly concerned about any possibility of claustrophobia,
JOURNEY TO TITANIC
because the submersibles are just 2.1 m wide, particularly for three people
spending ten hours in a pressurised biosphere at the bottom of the deepest,
The management at the Shirshov Institute informed me of an expedition
departing in July 2005 – and that there was only one seat left. I booked my
seat. That’s how I became one of the very few people in the world to ever visit
the wreck of Titanic.
The investment in diving to the Titanic wreck was equal to a deposit you’d
have to outlay to purchase an inner city house in my native Melbourne,
Australia. For me, it was worth every cent. An adventure of this magnitude is
what living is about. We were to dive down to the wreck in the month of July
in the North Atlantic Ocean, as it was a month deemed to be reasonably calm
and least treacherous. Other months in the Atlantic have patterns of low
pressure systems that sweep across the ocean creating rogue waves. Such are
the vagaries of trans-Atlantic crossings in the open sea. In the age-old battle
against nature, disasters at sea have a distinctive unique appeal of human
tragedy, occasional heroics and often mysterious circumstances. The Andrea
Gail, a Gloucester Massachusetts, swordﬁsh boat made famous in the book
and movie The Perfect Storm, starring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg,
sank in the general vicinity of Titanic, just south of the tail of the Grand
Banks. The Grand Banks are a group of underwater plateaus south-east of
Newfoundland on the North American continental shelf. On October 28th,
1991, the Andrea Gail collided with monstrous storms and was left stranded
in the high seas, defenceless in what meteorologists had called the ‘storm of
the century’, when three weather systems converged in the Atlantic Ocean
and created waves reported to have exceeded 100 feet.
RMS Titanic on her maiden voyage sank halfway between Southampton, her
port of departure, and New York, the destination she never reached. At the
time, she was travelling a north-westerly route and oceanographers believe she
struck a blueberg. That’s an unusually hard iceberg. It is an iceberg that has
a diﬀerent composition – more rocks. Against a gigantic blueberg, even the
world’s largest ship didn’t stand a chance.
To meet up with the scientiﬁc research ship that would take me out to the
Titanic wreck, I had to travel to St Johns, Newfoundland, the most remote
eastern tip of Canada. The Russian research vessel Akademik Keldysh was in
port at St Johns to rendezvous with me. This was the same Scientiﬁc Research
Vessel used in the making of Titanic by producer James Cameron. I was also
very fortunate to meet James Cameron in my July 2005 Dive, as he was ﬁlming
a Discovery Channel Documentary. Cameron was using our July expedition to
produce a new Titanic featured television event.
The Russians proudly claim the Akademik Keldysh to be the most lavishly ﬁtted
research ship in the world. It has several small laboratories on board, as well as
a specialised library covering underwater archaeology, oceanography and deep-
sea exploration. The ship has satellite communications equipment, enabling
passengers to make contact with the outside world while they are in the mid-
Atlantic. I’m an investor by nature, so I used the ﬁve days travelling from St
Johns to the wreck site of the Titanic to close a couple of stock market trades.
I thought I’d lock in some proﬁt via my laptop – just in case I didn’t make it
back. Where there’s a proﬁt, I want to lock it in. So that’s what I did. I wonder
what my broker would have said about me closing trades from a research ship
in the middle of the North Atlantic directly above the wreck of Titanic!
The Akademik Keldysh took the scheduled ﬁve days to get to the precise
coordinates above where the wreck sits. Along the way, something unusual
happened. With the extreme excitement of an expedition like this, I took along
a video camera – two, in fact – and I used the camcorder to document life
aboard ship. On my third day out to sea I was invited into the navigation
room by the captain and everyone was quite happy for me to ﬁlm the bridge.
While I was looking through the viewﬁnder, I noticed charts on the navigator’s
table. A closer inspection revealed that I was inadvertently ﬁlming the exact
coordinates of the Titanic wreck, which were marked on the map on the table.
The precise location of the Titanic had always been a huge secret, to prevent
illegal salvage operations of its treasures. I couldn’t believe I was recording the
precise location of history’s most legendary shipwreck. I still have that footage
and those coordinates.
JOURNEY TO TITANIC
As curious as I am, I defer to the experts of the Akademik Keldysh to be the
caretakers of this fascinating voyage. Deep sea exploration is an extraordinarily
complex process, and the men and women on board the Keldysh were some of
the world’s best. They were certainly an interesting assortment of characters.
The captain and chief scientist, Dr Anatoly Sagalevitch, is a real character in
At night he ushered us into his cabin for shots of vodka, and brought out
his Dobro guitar, whereupon he would serenade and play Russian folk songs.
Anatoly played a key role in designing the world’s most advanced MIR
submersibles, which can dive to depths of 6,000 metres. With Sagalevitch at
the controls, the MIR submersibles were made famous in the 1997 Oscar-
winning ﬁlm Titanic.
Some of the others on board were part of James Cameron’s ﬁlm crew. James
Cameron used our July 2005 expedition to set up the production for a Discovery
Channel and IMAX documentary. On our expedition, Cameron sent down a
ﬁve kilometre ﬁbre optic cable from the Keldysh to the wreck of the Titanic, so
that they could return a week later and record the ﬁrst ever live via satellite feed
from the bridge of Titanic for the Discovery Channel. On board the Akademik
Keldysh, Cameron had his own production studio with millions of dollars
worth of equipment.
A ﬂamboyant passenger also on board was a Russian billionaire named Boris.
Boris was an oligarch, one of the individuals who became so immensely rich in
the privatisation of the assets of the Soviet system after its economic collapse.
He obviously had a lot of clout. He and his attractive young female companion
were given James Cameron’s state room. It had wall-to-wall video screens and
was, in itself, a mini television studio. I’d say Boris was a man of some inﬂuence.
Another unique individual was Fran Capo, a close friend of mine who joined
our expedition to do a book signing by the wreck of the Titanic. Fran has been
interviewed on Good Morning America, Larry King, CNN Live among others
and was featured in the Guinness Book of World Records as the fastest talking
female on the planet. Fran was clocked at 603.32 words per minute. That’s ten
words a second!
There were several world famous deep-sea explorers on our expedition also.
One was the highly decorated Don Walsh, who I was fortunate to interview for
my Titanic documentary. Don was a US Navy lieutenant, who had recorded
the deepest dive in history, going down to a diving depth of 35,813 feet below
sea level. This dive was undertaken in the world’s deepest underwater canyon,
the Marianas Trench oﬀ the coast of Guam. At a maximum depth of 35,813
feet it is the deepest location on earth. He and Jacques Piccard were aboard
the bathyscaphe Trieste when it made the record-breaking descent into the
Challenger Deep. Challenger Deep is so deep that if Mt Everest were to be
placed into it there would be more than two kilometres of water covering it.
Another explorer on our expedition was Ralph White who was an award-
winning cinematographer who had just concluded a National Geographic
documentary Search for the Loch Ness Monster in the Inverness Highlands
in the north of Scotland. The tales of Nessie, the sea serpent-like creature
that ﬁtted a speciﬁc type of dinosaur-era sea creature called a plesiosaur has
enchanted people from all over the world. Ralph White, who alongside the
very famous Robert Ballard, was a key player in the expedition that discovered
the wreck of the Titanic back in 1985. Robert Ballard also discovered the wreck
of the famous World War II German battleship Bismarck in 1989 and had
just recently discovered the famed wreck of John F. Kennedy’s PT-109 torpedo
boat. In the summer of 1985, Ballard was aboard the French research ship Le
Suroît which was using the revolutionary new side scan sonar to search for
Titanic’s wreck. When the French ship was recalled, Ballard transferred onto a
ship from Woods Hole, the Knorr. Unbeknownst to some, this trip was being
ﬁnanced by the US Navy for secret reconnaissance of the wreckage of USS
Scorpion. The USS Scorpion was a top secret nuclear submarine that had sunk
nearby. The agreement was that after the Navy search was concluded, Ballard
would be free to hunt for Titanic. In 1985, Ballard came across the remains
of the boilers that powered the great liner and later discovered the hull itself.
Titanic revealed herself to the world after seventy-three years.
Whilst interviewing Ralph White for a Titanic documentary I was producing in
2005, Ralph informed me that he led an Anglo-French Titanic artifact recovery
JOURNEY TO TITANIC
expedition aboard the EFREMER Research Vessel Nadir back to the Titanic
wreck in 1987, and that he had been able to provide them the exact secret
coordinates. Ralph had co-directed the salvage operation and photography
during the recovery of over 1,400 artifacts from Titanic’s debris ﬁeld, which
later became the world’s leading Titanic travelling exhibition. Ralph White
recently died on February 4th, 2008. He died from complications of an aortic
aneurysm at Glendale Adventist Medical Centre in California. Ralph had dived
the Titanic wreck over thirty times and had boasted to me that he spent more
time on the Titanic than its original captain had.
The potential for further plunder of Titanic has become a big issue in recent
years, and – after a string of court cases – England, America and France have
signed a treaty to place a moratorium on all dives down to Titanic. The Russians
with the deepest diving submersibles in the world have yet to sign the treaty.
However, there is great pressure on the Russians at the moment, and it is quite
possible that expeditions such as the one I embarked on will soon be halted.
While I strongly believe that wrecks should not be plundered, I obviously
approve of explorers being allowed to view these surreal time capsules of the
It was fascinating to hear the stories of those experts aboard the Akademik
Keldysh as it churned through the Atlantic waves towards the coordinate location
above Titanic. I love history, particularly the stories of explorers tackling new
As I listened to some of the worlds boldest and famed deep-sea explorers
aboard the Akademik Keldysh, I appreciated even more just how fortunate and
privileged I was.
Quite possibly, the Titanic will disappear in the next decade, if not because of
the controversy, then most certainly because the physical wreck is being eaten
away. Marine biologists are fearful that bacteria could literally chew it up within
ten to ﬁfteen years. Rusticles cling to every bit of the structure, consuming an
incredible 2,000 pounds of steel every day. These microbial communities are
eating away Titanic’s iron at a rapid rate. There is precious little sea life at the
bottom of the sea and, what there is, doesn’t feed on bacteria. Because of the
lack of ambient light at the bottom, it is pitch black. Marine biologists have
taken samples of these rusticles and report that the wreck is becoming more
dilapidated every year. I guess the precarious state of the wreck heightened the
desire I had to go down there while I still could.
The Russian MIR Submersibles are the deepest diving vessels in the world.
The MIR submersibles can dive to a maximum depth of 6,000 metres (19,680
feet), whereas a larger submarine has only a 400 metres depth limit. The cockpit
of MIR is a ﬁve centimetre thick sphere made from a combination of nickel
and steel, with an inner diameter of 2.1 m. The total length of the vessel is
7.8 m and the weight 18.6 tonnes. Air pressure inside the cabin remains at a
constant one atmosphere with the air being recycled in a manner similar to
that used on board spacecraft. The two MIR submersibles on the Akademik
Keldysh are part of a group of only four deep-diving vessels in the world that
the Russians make available to the world’s scientiﬁc community. Built of special
nickel steel, they are designed to withstand the enormous pressures that exist
in the depths of the oceans. The pressure on the submersible at the depth of
Titanic is something like 6,000 pounds per square inch. The submersibles are
the closest thing there is to space capsules. Travelling in them is like orbiting
the planet. The compartment that accommodates three people – a pilot and
two passengers – is just over two metres in diameter. Naturally, there are no
bathroom facilities on board.
On August 2nd, 2007 Russia used the same MIR submersibles from my
Titanic dive to perform the ﬁrst ever manned descent to the seabed under the
Geographic North Pole, to a depth of 4.3 kilometres. The historical signiﬁcance
of this expedition was that no human had ever travelled to the real North
Pole before. The crew of MIR-1 was composed of my friend and pilot Anatoly
Sagalevich and Russian polar explorer Arthur Chilingarov. On the ‘real North
Pole’ seabed, at a depth of 4,261 metres, MIR-1 planted a one metre tall rust-
proof Russian ﬂag, made of titanium alloy and left a time capsule, containing
a message for future generations. There have been historical disputes and
conﬂicts over who reached the surface ice at 90° North ﬁrst. But one could
argue that, no matter who did it, the real North Pole is not a point on the
JOURNEY TO TITANIC
ever-changing ice pack. Embracing the true spirit of adventure, its goal was a
notable geographic ‘ﬁrst’ in the exploration of our planet. The MIR descended
to the unexplored Amundsen Plain, in the middle of the Arctic Ocean – the
least known of all the oceans on our planet. This is a region where no human
has gone before, more than 14,000 feet below the shifting polar ice cap in a
dark and mysterious place.
The MIR submersibles were designed and built in Finland for the Russians
during the Cold War. Their primary directives were presumably to salvage
nuclear warheads from sunken Russian submarines or, alternatively, to plunder
nuclear warheads from any American submarines that sank to the ocean
ﬂoor. Curiously, MIR is a Russian word meaning Peace. Both MIR 1 and
MIR 2 weigh around eighteen tonnes each. It takes a twenty-ﬁve tonne crane
aboard the mother ship Akademik Keldysh to lift them into the water. The two
submersibles dive down thirty minutes apart so that – if something goes wrong
with one – the other might be able to help. At the depth of Titanic, I’m not
sure how much help one submersible would be if another was trapped. But
that doesn’t worry me too much. I honestly don’t concern myself with fear. My
attitude is that the experience is worth any perceived risk. What’s the worst
scenario? That I perish down there, I suppose. Well, if I am going to exit this
world in the deep blue ocean, I’d rather exit on the deck of the Titanic. At least,
I’d be doing something that I love. Much more exciting than let’s say, going out
to the letter box, getting bitten by a wasp, and dying from the sting. Nah, give
me Titanic anytime. You’ve probably guessed by now that I’m a curious person,
and that extreme environments captivate me.
We know so little about the deep blue sea. Only three per cent of the world’s
oceans have ever been explored. We actually know a lot more about space than
we do about our oceans. For me, shipwrecks are utterly intriguing. They are time
capsules. The clock stopped the moment they sank. History has always excited
me. I guess it’s because of my European origins in Greece, a country so entrenched
with history. It’s the birthplace of civilisation and democracy. If there was a time
machine, I would much prefer to go back into history than into the future. None
of us can turn back time – nor can we travel through the chapters of history – but
shipwrecks are perhaps the closest we come to a true time warp.
The Titanic, which cost a reported $7.5 million to build, is frozen in time, a
time capsule of the year, 1912. That was a year when there was such optimism
– the new century, the fastest and biggest ship of its time, the marvellous
anticipation of its maiden voyage. Titanic’s crew at the time sailed faster than
they should have because they wanted to get to New York one day earlier than
scheduled – so they could outdo their rivals. These were the early maverick days
and industrial might of the turn of the century. I have read everything I can
ﬁnd of the memoirs of Titanic survivors, the correspondence and records. Now,
ﬁnally, I was close to living my dream.
We arrived at the wreck site of the Titanic early in the morning and began
planting four transponders around the diving area. These four transponders
would make it easy for the MIR submersibles to navigate within and around the
wreck. On the night before my dive, at 11.40 pm, the exact time that Titanic
struck the iceberg, I went out onto the stern of Akademik Keldysh and proposed
my own small toast. It was a moonless night, and quite foggy. Visibility was
terrible. It was just as the conditions would have been on the fateful night of
April 15th, 1912. I had brought with me a Pomerol 1998 Bordeaux bottle of
French red wine, and I sat there alone, and polished it oﬀ. I looked over the stern
and the water was completely still – just as it was on the night of the sinking.
I thought about all the unfortunate souls who had perished of hypothermia in
the Atlantic’s icy waters. And I remembered Frederick Fleet, up there in the
crow’s nest, the crewman who in 1912 ﬁrst observed the impending iceberg
and sounded the alarm. Alas, it was too late. The monolith of ice and stone was
so close that the ship had no chance. I slept lightly that night, thinking about
the lives lost, and the ghosts of that catastrophe.
Next morning, the carefully choreographed MIR support teams of the Akademik
Keldysh hoisted our eighteen tonne submersible over the side, into the water
with apparent ease. Our MIR 1 submersible pilot, Victor Nischeta, alongside
myself with a fellow American passenger named Reda Anderson were the sole
occupants of the biosphere. A twenty-ﬁve tonne crane using its umbilical chain
attached to the submersible placed us in the water. Our capsule was lifted by
a wave at this precise moment and bubbles rushed up, swirling around our
porthole. The sight of entering one world and leaving another behind begins
JOURNEY TO TITANIC
to play out in your mind. We were then towed out to sea and away from the
research vessel to initiate our descent.
Victor opened up the ballast tanks, the submersible took in the sea water, and
we started to dive and sink down to the murky depths of the Atlantic Ocean.
Attached to no tether or chains, we were on our own. Within ten minutes,
the ambient light from the portholes disappeared. All traces of sunlight were
gone and we were immersed in total darkness. As we dived, we felt a surreal
experience, as if we were travelling through outer space. As aquanauts, we were
descending into an alien environment so potentially hostile, with close to zero
chance of assistance from the outside world if we required rescuing. There was
also the risk of ﬁre in the 100 per cent oxygen internal atmosphere, hence the
requirement that we wear a Nomex suit. Nonetheless, in the event of a ﬁre at
depth, it is unlikely that the Nomex suit will help us survive.
We had some guides for the early part of the journey. Victor illuminated the
pitch black environment with the piercing lights of the MIR. A pod of pilot
whales swam alongside our craft. They were attracted by the sonar navigation
of our submersible.
The pilot whales escorted us down to about 300 metres – like caretakers of the
ocean – giving us a personal tour of their domain. It was fantastic. But, as we
went below 300 metres, they ditched us, as if to say: ‘You guys are going far
Reda Anderson, the other expedition member of our dive is a grandmother
who lives in Beverly Hills, California. She had generated a fortune in property
investment and business, and diving down to Titanic was one of the things
she wanted to do before her time on earth had expired. It was all about doing
something for the very ﬁrst time for Reda. She had a contagious personality
and I was invigorated by her personal triumphs. Reda also proclaimed that she
was planning on becoming the oldest woman in space too. I don’t doubt that at
all. Several months later, Reda’s life and space dream was documented in Forbes
magazine. Readers were privy to absorb the chronicles of her life.
She aspired to be the oldest woman in space, and the oldest to dive so deep.
At the time of our Titanic dive, she was seventy-six. Reda acknowledged she
was taking a great risk, but she was a thrill-seeker and great company. Instead
of sitting in some salon in Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, having her hair done
or buying a new alligator purse from some designer store, Reda was all about
extracting the most out of life. We talked about what motivated us, and shared
the belief that life is a mosaic of experiences and chapters. She wanted to deposit
as many experiences onto her mosaic before her time ran out.
Our MIR submersible was really a marvel of engineering. The acrylic plastic
view ports of the submersible were about ﬁfteen centimetres thick. Each was
about twelve centimetres in diameter. They were just enough to look and
ﬁlm through. Mounted on the outside of the submersible was a lighting rig,
which lit up everything for a distance of ten metres. I took with me two video
cameras and two digital still cameras. I wasn’t going to miss capturing the
moment. Reda didn’t bother with cameras – she just put her nose against the
view port and soaked up the scenery. She absolutely loved it. The submersible
also had a camera on the robotic manipular arm and an extension camera
with lights. We were able to watch on a plasma screen the pictures that the
outside camera was capturing.
To conserve power, the MIR submersibles run without external lights. However,
Victor occasionally switched them on to allow us to observe passing marine
life. The dive down into the abyss took under four hours. The sea life was
unlike anything I’d ever seen. When we descended below 1,000 metres, the
bio-luminescent creatures started to come into view. Bioluminescence is the
production and emission of light by a living organism as the result of a chemical
reaction during which chemical energy is converted to light energy. These tiny
illuminated ﬁsh were something else. They virtually lit up themselves, like
Christmas trees, becoming transparent. Seeing them was so exciting. ‘What
the hell is that?’ Reda kept asking.
After three and a half hours, we ﬁnally observed it on the radar screen. My
heart was rapidly pounding. It was an outline of the most awe-inspiring
structure I have ever witnessed in my life. We were still twenty-eight minutes
from reaching the ocean bed, yet the bow of Titanic was clearly visible on the
radar screen. My immediate thought was that this was going to be huge. Over
JOURNEY TO TITANIC
the next twenty-eight minutes, the image grew more vast and clearer. I could
hardly wait. Exactly twenty-eight minutes had passed and then, in a moment of
sheer ecstasy, we came upon the bow of Titanic. It was a surreal motion picture
moment, simply awesome. If you remember back to childhood and how you
felt when the candles lit up your birthday cake, or that ﬁrst glimpse of the
Christmas stocking, well, it was both of those for me.
Pressing our noses against the plastic, barely a metre from the bow, we could
almost reach out and touch it. I had imagined the image so often that I had to
remind myself that this was really happening. The promenade decking was still
intact, so elegant, so majestic, ninety-three years after it plunged to the ocean
ﬂoor. I thought of that scene from the movie, where Leonardo DiCaprio’s
character, Jack Dawson, balanced on the promenade decking and proclaimed
he was ‘King of the World’. I know it was ﬁction, storytelling, just a motion
picture, but I’m sure people would have felt that way aboard Titanic. Standing
on the bow of that massive liner, you would have believed you were a king or
queen. My mind kept racing. I pictured the socialites of the Old World and
New World swanning around on the foredeck, telling their grandiose stories of
the industrial age.
The bow looked even larger than I expected. As we motored around it, up and
down, I was struck by just how vast it was. And yet we were seeing only a third
of the bow. The lower two thirds are embedded into the sea ﬂoor. The bow sank
hard and fast, because it was ﬁlled with water. There were no air trappings in
the bow. If there had been air trappings, it would have imploded the way that
the stern did.
Implosions occur when air pressure outside the ship is greater than the air
Just above the sea bed, we came upon the anchor, covered in rusticles. I had
seen the anchor in the modern-day vision in James Cameron’s footage. But to
see it myself, literally one metre away from it, to visit this ghost ship from the
past, was as magical as being in space and orbiting around another planet.
Titanic was over 300 metres long. Every metre that we travelled, we came upon
some relic, some treasure. We saw an old chest, suitcases that once belonged to
immigrants, china cups, mugs, plates, wine bottles, ceramic tiles, toilets, bath-
tubs, light ﬁxtures and shoes. We saw pairs of shoes, side by side, seemingly
trapped together. At that depth in the salt water, bodies and bones would
have decomposed within a couple of years. Those shoes, I realised, were what
remained of human bodies. The submersible had a manipulator arm which
made it capable of picking up things from the ocean ﬂoor. There were so many
opportunities for us to collect relics – wine bottles, tiles, shoes, even the leather
suitcases that had lasted over ninety years. But we chose not to. The only
souvenir I extracted from the ocean ﬂoor was a small rock from the port side of
the Titanic bow. To me, that small rock shed light to an amazing journey and
story of its own.
Thousands of small rocks are littered around the wreck of Titanic. They are
called Ilulissat rocks because of the town of Ilulissat on Greenland’s west coast.
Experts believe that these rocks beside the wreck were part of the iceberg that
the Titanic struck, and that the iceberg most likely travelled all the way from
the polar ice caps of Greenland. The majority of the Icebergs in the Atlantic
break away from the Ilulissat ice caps. Those rocks could have been what made
the iceberg so hard. In eﬀect, Titanic hit a gigantic mass of stones glued together
by Ilulissat polar ice cap.
As we skimmed the ocean ﬂoor, the two MIR submersibles stayed reasonably
close to each other. We were teased by the amazing sights we saw. We came
across Captain Smith’s cabin, with its own bath-tub. We knew where it was
located from drawings of the wreck, and the contents conﬁrmed it was indeed
the captain’s. We cruised past his marble bath-tub and all the copper piping, still
connected. The Titanic was going to be Captain Smith’s last voyage. The owners
of the White Star Line gave him the captaincy of the greatest ship ever built
as a farewell gift before he retired. Captain Smith during the ﬁnal moments of
the sinking apparently locked himself in the bridge with gallantry and chose to
go down with his ship. As we orbited past his cabin I remembered the context
of an interview he gave to a New York Times reporter in Southampton prior to
the maiden voyage.
JOURNEY TO TITANIC
I cannot imagine any condition which would cause this ship to founder.
I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern
shipbuilding has gone beyond that.
Titanic Captain E J Smith, New York Times interview
Another point of interest was when we came across Molly Brown’s cabin. She
was the American socialite, philanthropist and activist who had come into new
Brilliantly portrayed in the Titanic movie, Molly was attempting to ﬁt in with
the fellow travellers who were of ‘old money’. She had a soft side, and was
very kind to the people in steerage, helping many of them onto lifeboats. She
became known as ‘the unsinkable Molly Brown’.
As well as exploring RMS Titanic, I had a scientiﬁc task to perform. The
renowned deep-sea explorer David Bright, who later became a close friend, was
on board the mother ship Akademik Keldysh. David had asked me to search and
document the Titanic’s expansion joint section for a comparative analysis thesis
he was working on. The expansion joint is the buﬀer in a ship’s mid-section
where it can stretch. This elasticity is critical for vessels to withstand impact.
But with Titanic, signiﬁcant stresses around this expansion joint soon reached
the ultimate strength of the material and the giant hull fractured. David Bright
told me he was using his personal dive to document photometric comparative
analysis work on the Titanic’s structure to test if she was widening or shifting
at the expansion joint. David dived the day before I did to Titanic, but due to
time restraints and deep sea mechanical problems on his expedition, they ran
out of time to closely complete his experiments.
Diving in the MIRS generally do not go according to plan as sea currents and
battery failures determine the length of your mission in the deep abyss. Since
I was destined for the last dive of the season, David pre-framed me where to
locate the expansion joints and provided me with nautical reference maps and
illustrations. When I ﬁnally surfaced many hours later after the completion
of my dive, I was not 100% sure I had documented the expansion joints for
When I arrived back on board the mother ship later, David anxiously surveyed
through my footage. David was so ecstatic upon realising that I did in fact have
thirty seconds of expansion joint footage captured. He later told me that my
footage clearly depicted the widening of the joints and validated the further
deterioration of Titanic. After viewing my footage, David asked me for the
rights to use it for his presentation talks and to showcase it to the scientiﬁc
community. Months later, David informed me that the Titanic Historical
Society in New York had an opportunity to view my expansion joint footage.
Travelling the length of Titanic, we moved from the bow section through the
debris ﬁeld until we eventually came to the stern. It’s quite hard to work out
which pieces belong to the stern. It looks like the entire stern had gone through
a food processor.
The chaos actually surprised me. It’s obvious the stern imploded on impact.
When Titanic hit the iceberg, the ship buckled, and thousands of rivets came
undone. The impact was on the starboard side. Resting on the ocean ﬂoor, the
bow and stern lie about 600 metres apart, facing in opposite directions. The
stern must have twisted on the way down and imploded. There are thousands
of items shattered all over the place. The disappearance of the crow’s nest is
another indicator of how the steel structure is rapidly deteriorating. The crow’s
nest was observed and recorded during a 1998 dive. But it has since broken
oﬀ and fallen away. That’s a measure of the rapid rate of decay. Now all that
remains of the crow’s nest is a hole in the mast that lies over the forecastle. We
cruised above the mast and peered into the hole where the crow’s nest was. It
was there that Frederick Fleet cried out, ‘Iceberg right ahead, iceberg!’
Cruising around the wreck for several hours, we discovered the ocean ﬂoor
littered with debris from the wreck. At the stern section, when we were viewing
the propellers, we had a very close call. In order to get down to the propellers, we
went deep into the aft section of the stern, beneath the overhanging promenade
decking which – at any time – could have entombed us. No-one mentioned
the risk. A piece of promenade decking dropped on our MIR, smashing into
pieces because of its decayed state. We were forced to use the manipulator arm
to wrestle oﬀ the remaining piece of promenade decking. I have this magical
JOURNEY TO TITANIC
moment captured on video. I dare say that if a submersible got entangled or
if a larger piece of debris happened to fall on us, the situation would not have
been pleasant. Still, we didn’t discuss potential negatives. Reda was fearless.
Like me, all she wanted to do was to get as close as possible to Titanic and its
We took with us a packed lunch, and Victor had a treat in mind for us. He
piloted the submersible cautiously onto the ship’s bridge and parked it. We sat
there for a half hour and ate lunch. What an eerie feeling and environment.
This was the exact same location where Captain Smith had once stood as the
doomed liner capitulated to the sea. What a surreal episode I was experiencing.
I was literally one metre from the steering gear telemotor section of the bridge
which Captain Smith once clutched in his grip. Was it a safe parking spot? Well,
we had parked an eighteen tonne MIR submersible vessel on a sheet of two
centimetre thick steel that had been eroding and rusting away for ninety-three
years. You decide. Ah well, lunch was good. We had packed a few sandwiches,
a couple of chocolate bars and an orange juice. Upon my return to Australia I
was informed by certain media groups that I oﬃcially became one of the ﬁrst
in the world to dine on the deck of the Titanic since the actual sinking in 1912.
An eerie ghostlike feeling enveloped my thoughts.
After a late lunch, Victor blew the ballast tanks using compressed air, and
the MIR became positively buoyant again, allowing us to rise to the surface.
Victor was quite relaxed about everything. So calm in fact that he and Reda
both seemed to nod oﬀ to sleep during parts of the slow journey ascent to the
mother ship. Reda was exhausted. I was wide awake, kicking back and listening
to music on my ipod. I sat there thinking about all the marvellous sights I
had just witnessed, and staring at the luminescent ﬁsh, ﬂicking the lights on
It took me several days to come down from that high. I enjoyed the celebratory
glass of champagne back on board the Akademik Keldysh with Anatoly, Victor
and Reda but I didn’t need it. I was stimulated enough. That experience was
contagious for me. Before going down to Titanic, I had known very little about
the other great shipwrecks of the world. On board the Akademik Keldysh,
however, I heard about less famous liners that had sunk, and our famed team
of deep sea divers aboard the Keldysh spoke of the doomed fate that befell
Titanic’s sister ships, Britannic and Olympic. Titanic is immortalised. It’s like
Neil Armstrong. Everyone knows the ﬁrst man to walk on the moon. But who
remembers the most recent person to walk on the moon? His name is Eugene
Cernan and he strolled on the lunar landscape during Apollo 17, the last Apollo
mission, the last human to walk the surface of the moon in 1972.
Aboard the Keldysh, I heard a lot about Britannic, the sister ship of the Titanic,
from my friend and renowned adventurer David Bright. A few years ago David
headed a team of US Navy divers that salvaged the USS Monitor, which was the
ﬁrst ironclad warship commissioned by the United States Navy and used in the
American civil war. Upon her salvage from her murky depths, David and the
other divers discovered the remains of two trapped crew members from 1863,
who were later given full military funerals.
Tragically, my good friend David Bright died in a deep sea diving accident in
August 2006, a year after our Titanic dive. He had the most recorded dives
down to the Andrea Doria, the fabled Italian super line that sank oﬀ Nantucket
in 1956 after it struck a Swedish liner called the Stockholm. David was on a new
record dive of the Andrea Doria when he died. After a long, deep dive, a diver
is required to carry out decompression stops to avoid the bends. The bends or
decompression illness as it is medically known is generally caused when a diver
surfaces too rapidly from depth. Air contains eighty per cent nitrogen, which
at the surface is inhaled and exhaled without eﬀect. At pressure this nitrogen is
forced into the bloodstream and if a diver ascends from depth without allowing
suﬃcient time to ‘oﬀ-gas’, nitrogen bubbles can form, leading to the bends.
In David’s case, during his ascent, he decompressed too fast and suﬀered a
massive stroke. I know it’s a cliché when it’s said that someone died doing what
they loved, but David truly loved deep sea diving. He was a gentle giant and
amazing person. He was an inspiring character to be around. When you’ve
done things so many times, I guess you can become a little complacent.
On our voyage to Titanic in 2005, we spoke for many hours about mounting
an expedition to explore the wreck of the Britannic, Titanic’s sister ship,
JOURNEY TO TITANIC
which lies at a depth of 500 feet, oﬀ the island of Kea, sixty-four kilometres
south-east of Athens, Greece. With my command of the Greek language and
networking contacts in Greece we could document the Britannic and produce
a documentary for the Discovery or National Geographic Channel in the US.
We had planned our expedition to the watery grave of the Britannic for June
2007, but due to David’s death, I postponed all dive plans. I still intend to go
ahead with the Britannic expedition and will mount an expedition at a later
date in honour of David.
So far, there have only been three major expeditions down to Britannic. The
ﬁrst was the 1976 discovery of the wreck by a team led by legendary explorer
Jacques Cousteau. The second was in 1998, and the only other was in 2003.
The reason why there have been so few dives is that it isn’t easy to get permission
from Simon Mills, the Englishman who now owns the Britannic wreck, and
also the protective Greek Government who discourages diving to the wreck.
I have made contact with Simon, and he would support an expedition to the
wreck. We both share and respect an appreciation for the Britannic, and the role
she played in the saga of the ill-fated vessels of the White Star Line. Britannic
was built in the same shipyard as Titanic. She was the new unsinkable ship
– over thirty metres longer than Titanic. But, when World War One broke out,
the opulent cruise liner was re-commissioned and taken over by the Admiralty
as a Red Cross hospital ship. She was never to sail as the luxury liner that her
owners had in mind.
She sailed oﬀ to war with 625 crew and 500 doctors, nurses and Royal Army
Medical Corps personnel aboard. On November 21st, 1916, as she pushed
through the Kea Channel oﬀ Athens, heading to Salonica to pick up wounded
Allied troops from the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign, she was struck, either by a
German mine or U-boat.
She sank in just ﬁfty-ﬁve minutes – three times faster than Titanic. Britannic
became the largest cruise liner ever sunk. The most sensational feature of the
wreck of the Britannic is that it is still in one piece, resting on her starboard
side. Even the fabled Marconi radio room is still intact. Twenty-one people
died. They were killed when lifeboats were drawn into the whirling propellers.
The remaining survivors were picked up by naval patrol vessels. The third sister
of the White Star Line, Olympic, was also doomed. She had a dismal record for
collisions and ended up as a spare parts ship.
Mounting an expedition to Britannic will not be an easy dive. The strong current
and the vagaries of ocean diving make it a very challenging project. But I want
to document the Britannic and to thoroughly explore this extraordinary time
capsule. During the most recent expedition, divers discovered such treasurers
as the metal frame of the chandelier that hung above the grand staircase. Even
china items with the White Star logo were found. I want to discover what is
left of the fabled Marconi room, the Turkish baths and other features that are
part of folklore. Britannic is so integral to the Titanic saga. Having witnessed
the awesome beauty of Titanic, now it’s my dream to explore her sister ship and
fulﬁl a promise I made to my good friend, David Bright.
THE THRILLIONAIRE® PRINCIPLE
• How much have you extracted out of life?
• Life is a mosaic of experiences and chapters, what are yours?
• How many experiences have you deposited onto your mosaic?
Wanting something is not enough. You must hunger for it. Your motivation must be
absolutely compelling in order to overcome the obstacles that will invariably come
your way – Les Brown
W HEN I WAS EIGHT, A TRAVELLING SALESMAN KNOCKED on the
front door of our house in Port Melbourne and sold my non-
English speaking parents a set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
The salesman probably laughed all the way to the bank. He must have known
that my father, a truck driver, and mother, a machinist at a car factory, could ill-
aﬀord such an expensive outlay. But the salesman’s spiel was good. He probably
thought his pitch was ﬂawless. He advised my parents how the thick volumes
with their plush leather lining would assist the kids with their homework and
oﬀer advanced learning.
I was the youngest of four siblings, and we were all standing in the background,
nodding impatiently. I remember yelling out, ‘Let’s get them, let’s get them!’
Our parents always put our education ﬁrst, so they signed up to buy the set
of Encyclopaedia Britannica – even though the purchase was probably beyond
their means. That set of encyclopaedia turned out to be one of the greatest
inﬂuences on my life.
It was the spark that set my imagination on ﬁre. The gateway to knowledge
was unleashed. In the 1970s if you walked into a home and the Encyclopaedia
Britannica was on the bookshelf, you immediately knew that you were in a
home where higher learning and discovery were respected and cherished.
The discoveries I made through reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica as a
young child were simply breathtaking. They opened me up to the dreams that
I would fulﬁl in adult life. I would read the encyclopaedia in family time and –
without my parents knowing – I’d take them to bed with me, too. But bedtime
for me meant grabbing an encyclopaedia and sneaking it into my bedroom so
I could read in the dark. I’d shine a torch under the sheets, ﬂick the pages of
a volume through to a subject that fascinated me, and I’d read until I nodded
oﬀ to sleep. The volume containing the Space chapter got a real workout from
me. Space was indeed my true fascination. The pages of that chapter were so
well-thumbed and dog-eared. I could never get enough of travelling into other
dimensions. Sometimes I’d stay awake past midnight, dreaming about the
things I was going to pursue in life, and imagining the world that was out there
waiting for me.
All that reading had its down side, though. My eyes suﬀered badly. My parents
made an appointment for me to see an optometrist who recommended I wear
glasses for my short-sightedness – but I disliked the glasses chosen for me, and
refused to wear them. I’ll tell you about the resolution to that problem later in
this chapter. My eyesight at the time was abysmal, but my vision for the future
did not diminish. The encyclopaedia opened up to me all the things I wanted
to accomplish. From the age of four through until I was eleven, I wanted to
be an astronaut. That was my main goal. It was every boy’s dream to become
an astronaut and travel to space, but I really believed and lived the dream of it.
Those volumes exposed me to a mosaic of experiences, a whole kaleidoscope of
ﬂavours that I wanted to taste, feel and explore.
These days the Encyclopaedia Britannica is available on CD-ROM, but nothing
will ever replace those rich, thick, bound volumes. It’s a diﬀerent feeling of
absorption when you touch the page. There’s escapism in those volumes and for
me, they were magic. My mother still has that very same set of Encyclopaedia
Britannica in her home today. That very same set that so inspired me a long
It was then that I pretty much laid down the framework for my goals and
dreams. I sat down and wrote out all the things I wanted to accomplish.
Without knowing it, at the age of eight I wrote the screenplay of my life.
Mapping out my objectives and my goals released the creative juices which set
me on my path of purpose. To live life to the fullest, you must stand guard at
the gate of your garden to allow the pinnacle of all information to enter. By
choosing my thoughts I constructed the picture of prosperity in order for it to
be manifested. The great artist Vincent Van Gogh was asked how he painted
such beautiful work. Van Gogh said, ‘I dream my painting, and then I paint
my dream.’ In other words, he vividly illustrated the picture in his mind ﬁrst
and then he made a replica on canvas-in oil, of the original visualisation in his
mind. In truth, there has never been an original ‘Van Gogh’ sold!
Another inspirational character for me in childhood was a comic book adventurer
named Tintin. The Adventures of Tintin (French: Les Aventures de Tintin) is a
series of Belgian comic books created by Belgian artist Hergé. Tintin, a young
Belgian reporter and traveller, who was aided by a colourful cast of characters.
Tintin books remain both unrivalled in their complexity and depth even after
more than a half century. There is an inﬁnite variety of themes coupled with
a select squadron of quirky characters. To date two hundred million copies of
this globetrotting boy journalist’s adventures have been sold worldwide and the
books have been translated in over ﬁfty languages.
Tintin was living the ‘never grow up’ dream and I travelled the world through
his pages, taking in every exotic detail. I came across the Tintin books, which
were written in the 1930s and 1940s, on the shelves of the library at my primary
school. Every lunch-time I headed straight for the library to read Tintin. Our
school library had the entire series of about twenty-three books, which I read
and re-read, daydreaming about the magical world that Tintin inhabited. In
his various adventures he was a pilot, space explorer, mountain climber and
deep-sea diver. He also climbed the mountains of Nepal, rescued African slaves,
battled pirates and dived down to the deepest abyss of the ocean to explore
When not adventuring in some exotic location, our seemingly permanent
adolescent hero, Tintin, lived with his amiable but accident-prone friend,
Captain Haddock. Captain Haddock lived the good life in a huge country
mansion, Marlinspike Hall, on a very expensive estate. He had his own butler,
Nestor, and was surrounded by an assortment of memorabilia from his exploits
with Tintin. I deduced that – lacking a wealthy friend such as Captain Haddock,
if I wanted to become an adventurer like Tintin – I too would need to develop
multiple pillars of income in order to aﬀord such a lifestyle. When I reﬂect
back on the adventures of Tintin, I realised that the actual adventures I had
personally embarked on thus far in my life, had been remarkably similar to his.
On my travels through life I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve been in some
far-ﬂung destination and had this weird feeling of deja-vu, suddenly realising
that I was having a Tintin ﬂashback.
Snowy, an exceptionally white wire fox terrier, is Tintin’s four-legged faithful
companion who travels everywhere with him. The bond between the dog
and Tintin is deeper than life, and they have saved each other from perilous
situations many times.
Years later, I adopted a small sidekick dog of my own by the name of Cassiopeia
who had been abandoned by her previous owners. I had managed to save her
life from certain euthanasia at the RSPCA, The Royal Society for Prevention
of Cruelty to Animals. After adopting her as my own, I reﬂected upon the
everlasting spirit and inﬂuence of Tintin and Hergé that would later serve me in
adulthood. Alongside other Tintinologists, my childhood remained in a blissful
trance. Tintin addicts would also be pleased to hear that Steven Spielberg and
Peter Jackson, the director of The Lord of the Rings have announced a three-part
trilogy and picture deal to ﬁnally bring Tintin to the big screen. Tintin is also
currently enjoying a renaissance with a London stage show.
Growing up, I suﬀered a host of setbacks through childhood. Life in the real
world rarely goes to plan. Fatigue and illness has the potential to dominate the
lives of those who are living without direction and dreams. When I was barely
a month old, my parents were advised by hospital staﬀ that had I developed
chronic asthma. My mother later told me that things were ‘touch and go’ for
some time. The supposed asthma diagnosis and the later short-sightedness
episode of my life conspired to derail my boyhood dreams. In school, I could
barely see the blackboard and used to sit near the front of the class so I could
read what the teacher was writing on the board.
Reality bites. When I was eleven my father gave me a stern appraisal of how
poorly my life was going. He told me in no uncertain terms that I should stop
wasting my time dreaming about becoming an astronaut. ‘You have asthma,
you are short-sighted, and you are failing mathematics,’ he told me. ‘These are
three reasons why you will never, ever become an astronaut’. I was shattered.
My mind had lost its lustre, and perhaps my most human endowment, my
spirit. Things could not have been any worse. Of course, he was right. I was
poor at maths, short-sighted and now had become a stressed-out boy who was
labelled as an asthmatic. Stress causes your precious mental energy and spirit to
leak, just like the inner tube of a tyre.
My father was a hard-working truck driver. He carted gravel for a cement
company around the state of Victoria in Australia. He always left for work so
early that I never saw him in the morning, and he usually got home from work
after we had gone to bed. At times he was gone for over a week. He worked
long hours to ensure his children had food on the table and a private schooling
His name was Konstantinos Halikopoulos (which was later cut short to Halik
in the mid-1970s). My parents chose to shorten our surname because almost
everyone misspelt or mispronounced it. I was born Nikos Halikopoulos. Both
my parents had emigrated from the Peloponnese region, a large peninsula in
southern Greece. The Peloponnese owes its name to the mythological hero
Pelops, a legendary king of the city of Mycenae. In historical times, the
Peloponnese was mostly populated by Dorians under the leadership of the
ruling Spartans from Sparta.
My father was a complex character, an enigma. He was born in the historical
village of Hora, Messinia. Hora was built on a hilltop and has preserved its
old-fashioned appearance – stone houses with tiled roofs and narrow lanes. Just
outside my father’s village of Hora lies the famous ruined palace of Nestor, who
took part in the Trojan War. Nestor was an Argonaut, who was part of a band
of heroes who, in the years before the Trojan War, accompanied Jason and the
other Argonauts in his quest to ﬁnd the Golden Fleece.
The 1930s in Greece was the period of the Great Depression. My father was
the youngest of nine children and whose ﬁve older siblings died of disease
and malnutrition. His parents were so poor that they gave him away to the
Fotopoulos couple of Gargaliani who were wealthy land owners but couldn’t
have children. Gargaliani sits on a lush hillside with a magical carpet of olive
trees and vines that stretch out to the sea. My father was only two-years-old
when he was adopted by the Fotopoulos couple and was never reunited with
his real parents until the age of eighteen. He met his biological parents for a
brief time and forever remained angered at their decision to give him away. My
father’s biological parents begged him to forgive them. In the subsequent years
of that visit, my father lived the life of a nomad until he joined the Greek Army
as a soldier at twenty-two years of age.
He grew up hard, and music was his only friend. As a teenager, he learnt to
play a famous Greek stringed instrument called a bouzouki and performed in
the main Greek taverns of Hora, Gargaliani and Athens. In his late twenties he
moved to Athens, like so many Greeks, hoping that the big city might provide
opportunity. He continued to perform professionally as a bouzouki player in
late night taverns. When he told me about those days, he would shake his head
and say that musicians were at the bottom of the barrel in Greek society. He
talked of the seedy bars, the womanising, the drinking and the lowlife. He
never wanted his children to become musicians.
Greece in the 1950s was riddled with poverty. Unemployment was high. My
father wanted to emigrate to America or Canada, but the only immigration
option given to him was Australia. The island continent in the South Paciﬁc
needed as much labour as it could get. He had never heard of Australia until
the week before his ship left the port of Piraeus, bound for Melbourne. He
longed for a new life, a chance to start afresh, and he took what he was given.
The voyage to Australia took three months.
Konstantinos Halikopoulos arrived in Melbourne on July 7th, 1959, three
years after that city hosted the Olympic Games. His possessions consisted of an
old leather suitcase, enough clothes for a few days, his bouzouki and a little red
book that he carried everywhere. My father would never hear or see from his
real parents or the Fotopoulos couple ever again.
My father had endured a lot of tough times and had formed some strong
opinions, based on his working class ideologies. He was a proud socialist. The
little red book he brought with him on the ship was the communist manifesto
of Chairman Mao Tse-tung. He carried a Greek translation version of Mao’s
doctrine. There was a hammer and sickle on the front cover, and he carried it
around everywhere. He was vehemently anti-capitalism, anti-western society.
Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh were among his peers that he respected. He
carried that little red book for decades and I can tell you the exact day that
he ﬁnally discarded it. It was the day that the Berlin Wall came down in 1989
and the unravelling of the Iron Communist Curtain was ﬁnally a reality. He
threw it in a pit of ﬁre in front of me. There and then, he ﬁnally accepted
that the utopian ideology of socialism had proven itself to be a failed political
experiment. He was devastated by the sight of the food queues in communist
countries, the long lines of people just waiting to get bread. He had believed
that communism would deliver equality for all people, a balance of equilibrium
and prosperous societies.
My mother Dionisia Antonopoulos had left her remote village of Raftopoulo
in the upper mountain regions of the Peloponnese, in southern Greece. If
the economic circumstances in Athens were dire, they were appalling in the
mountain village of Raftopoulo. Many young people ﬂed the hills in the hope of
ﬁnding work in Athens. My uncle Nick Antonopoulos had arrived in Australia
before my mother and promised his sister that upon ﬁnding work, he would
send for her. My mother didn’t hesitate to leave Greece when he ﬁnally sent
her the money for passage to Australia in 1958. She wanted to take the chance
– even if it meant travelling alone. In 1959 my parents were introduced to one
another and within one month they were married. Their ﬁrst home, ironically
enough, was located less than a mile from where their immigrant ships had
come ashore at Station Pier in Melbourne for the ﬁrst time.
My father’s beliefs were contrary to my mother’s, who was a devout Orthodox
Christian. Before she came to Australia, she had never travelled outside her
village in Greece. She remembers, upon boarding the ship for the very ﬁrst time,
seeing her ﬁrst black person. Until that moment, she had no comprehension
that black people existed. It was 1958 when she set sail. My mother left behind
her old life, but she kept her values. Despite my father’s alternative religious
beliefs, she remained a strict Orthodox Christian. They agreed to send their
children to catholic schools, because my father had at least conceded that
Catholic schools would provide a sound education.
My parents always considered our education to be the top priority in their lives.
They wanted to give us what they had been denied – scope to plan for the
We all attended private schools – I had my primary schooling at Resurrection
Primary School in the suburb of Essendon and secondary schooling at Catholic
Regional College in St Albans and Sydenham.
By the time we advanced to secondary school, we were living in the working
class suburb of Airport West, near Melbourne’s international and domestic
airports. My parents worked slavishly to put us through private school. Seventy
per cent of household income was allocated to pay the school fees. My father
even nominated the professions that he wanted each of us to pursue. He
decided that the oldest child, Dimitrios (Jim) would become a doctor. The
second oldest, Georgia, would become a criminal lawyer and Victoria would
study psychology to graduate as a psychologist. My father had plans for me to
pursue law also. In his opinion, law, psychology and medicine were the only
prosperous and honourable ﬁelds we could enter into. Jim would indeed study
medicine, Georgia did graduate as a criminal lawyer and Victoria majored in
behavioural psychology. As for me, I permanently deferred from university all
together. My path lay elsewhere. A well-worn path wasn’t necessarily the right
path for me to follow.
While my father was a hard-worker and had a strong philosophy, in hindsight
I believe he did lack some skill in parenting. Looking back, it must have been a
strange household – we had an atheistic socialist father and a devout, orthodox
Christian mother with four kids being privately educated in the Catholic
schooling system. My mother’s house was a shrine, paying homage to the
Lord. My father’s philosophy was that he felt religion was a divider of people,
a phoney, and that it pandered to weak people. His belief was that people
should create their own happiness, and not rely on the activities of praying
and wishing. He would comment that religion makes you wish that someone
will save you, that people pray to be taken care of. Like my father, I believe
power is in our own hands. We create our own destiny and fortunes in life. He
would often complain that there were more churches in the world than shelters
to assist the poor in need of food. I agreed with him on that. I embraced the
theories from him about claiming ownership of my life. From an early age, I
thought independently. I knew I had to create my own disciplines for my own
I grew up inﬂuenced by his anti-religious philosophies and my mother’s diet
of forced religion. Through this combined parental inﬂuence, I developed an
agnostic view in regards to religion early on. Growing up, I was looking for one
belief system to cling onto but then I realised you don’t have to, so long as you
ﬁnd something that gives you peace. But like my father, I am adamant that the
most qualiﬁed person in the world will always be ourselves. The moment we
rely on any external force, entity or factor, we automatically, in eﬀect by law,
My siblings and I were all well educated. We share common goals. We’re all
about giving back and contributing to society as much as we can. Our parents
wanted to provide as much opportunity as they could for us. They wanted us
to achieve excellent grades and ﬁnd prosperous jobs. My parents wanted society
to be proud of us. That meant they worked from ﬁrst light until dark every
day. My parents continued to work laboriously, even after they acquired their
ﬁrst three properties. Because my parents went to work before I woke in the
morning, my sisters Georgia and Victoria took care of me. They would wake
me, make sure I showered, and provide food for me on the breakfast table. My
parent’s health deteriorated rapidly as a result of their hard work. My father
suﬀered crippling back injuries for most of his life and my mother developed
severe varicose veins throughout her life.
My personal health became an issue too – by the age of eleven, my eyesight was
so poor that I couldn’t see what the teachers were writing on the blackboard. I
was receiving poor grades. The eye specialist put it down to my continual reading
in bed. I used to go to bed every night with the Encyclopaedia Britannica or
Hergé’s Tintin books. The specialist prescribed me glasses, but I refused to wear
them. I viewed the wearing of glasses as a disability. I didn’t want to be reliant
on anything. I would do anything I could to avoid having to rely on glasses.
Playing guitar was soon to become a major inﬂuence in my life. One rainy
afternoon in 1979, my brother Jim and I were watching a television documentary
about Jimi Hendrix. I thought Hendrix was really cool. He was incredibly
innovative and unlike any other guitarist the world had heard. Hendrix was
considered to be one of the greatest and most inﬂuential guitarists in rock
I had formative guitar lessons in the early days and rapidly progressed. By the
age of twelve, I had surpassed the talents of my ﬁrst guitar tutor who was
allocated the task of teaching me. A spark of life had begun to ﬂicker and
the most golden opportunity to rekindle the passionate inner ﬁre in me soon
developed. After the extinguishing of my astronaut dreams, music would later
consume my life. By thirteen, I was practising guitar for three hours after
school. I dedicated my life to music. Even at thirteen, I started teaching guitar
to people twice my age. I advertised my guitar lessons on the notice boards of
music shops. Students used to come to the door of my family home and ask for
guitar lessons and, when I answered, they would ask: ‘Is Nik Halik here?’ When
I said I was Nik, they’d laugh. I was half their age and size, who can blame them
for laughing. If they needed convincing, I’d challenge them to give me a chance
and play a few tunes to show them what I was capable of.
From the age of fourteen, I grew my hair longer – so I could emulate Jimi
Soon I knew more about playing guitar than my second tutor. My development
as a guitarist was relentless. I’ve always been the sort of person who, when I take
something on, I get proﬁcient at a very fast rate. I progressed through several
tutors by the age of seventeen. Soon, I virtually ran out of tutors in my home
town of Melbourne to be inspired by. I had an entire catalogue of students, of
which some were professional performing musicians. I was charging up to $25 an
hour, a tidy sum of money for a teenage boy, and it was giving me the capital to
upgrade my ownership of more expensive guitars and ampliﬁcation equipment.
By the age of seventeen, I had also saved $30,000. I used this money to fund
my ﬁrst big move – I started making plans to re-locate to Los Angeles in the
US to study guitar with the best teachers on the planet. At age seventeen, I
permanently deferred from university. My dream was to become a great guitarist
and performing musician. As you’d expect, the notion of this disgusted my
father, but my dearest and caring mother supported me. She told my father
that they had placed great expectations on the three older children, but that
they should allow the youngest one to follow his dreams. ‘He’ll ﬁnd his way,’
she said. It must have been hard for my father to accept, particularly as I wanted
to move and live in the US, the land of Uncle Sam, the birth of capitalism and
the dollar bill.
My father had been my musical inﬂuence because of his bouzouki playing, but
he never wanted his children to become musicians. He didn’t want me to travel
the same path as he did – the seedy bars, the nightlife, getting home at 5 or 6
o’clock in the morning. He was about earning respect by having an honest job.
He did, however possess perfect musical pitch, a perfectly tuned ear for music.
His children inherited that gift. Even as a young boy, I was able to hear a piece
of music and within minutes, I could transcribe the work for my students. I
still have that uncanny naturally born gift. A jet can ﬂy past, and I could tell
you the musical pitch of it.
I recall my students would come to lessons, hand me a cassette tape of a song,
such as Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water or Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven
or The Eagles’ Hotel California and I would transcribe the music and guitar
solo for them.
In those days, very few people could transcribe these works, which in eﬀect
validated me to charge an additional monetary premium.
What spurred me to go to the US was that I earned myself a scholarship entry to
the famous Guitar Institute of Technology (GIT), the world’s most innovative
school of contemporary music. The Guitar Institute of Technology was part of
the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, California. It oﬀered a comprehensive,
hands-on education in contemporary music performance.
GIT was the equivalent to studying law at Harvard University or studying
science and technology at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I had seen
an advertisement for the GIT in Guitar Player magazine, and knew that my
musical destiny involved studying there and moving to Hollywood. I moved
to Hollywood, California in my late teens, to study at GIT. It was an awe
inspiring arsenal of the world’s greatest musicians. The institute was open 24/7
with over 300 of the world’s upcoming musical students in attendance.
I vividly remember my ﬁrst week in Hollywood. An earthquake along the San
Andreas Fault measuring a magnitude of 5.0 on the Richter scale struck the
greater city of Pasadena and Downtown LA. I also witnessed the carnage of two
bullet-ridden limousines whilst travelling east along San Bernardino Freeway
Interstate 10. Welcome to LA.
Hollywood, situated west-north-west of downtown LA, was the cultural
identity and historical centre of the major movie studios. When I arrived
there in 1988, an abundance of prostitutes, panhandlers, drug dealers and the
homeless swelled her ranks. Hollywood had fallen into many years of serious
decline. Tourists who came to Hollywood in order to view where the stars dined,
played, shopped or lived were disappointed to witness the polar opposite.
I used to walk along Hollywood Boulevard from the apartment I was renting
on the way to GIT and along the way I would brush past all the scientology
spruikers, drug dealers, prostitutes and pimps hawking their wares. The stars
were there alright – on the pavement only, the Hollywood walk of fame
featuring the likes of Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor and
others. Hollywood, since 2001, is at last now undergoing rapid gentriﬁcation
My decision to leave Australia was all about being inspired, to feel more alive and
to fuel unbridled energy into my life. My natural curiosity to being mentored
by the world’s elite musicians was to provide the creative spark I needed. Within
a fortnight of arriving in LA, I joined my ﬁrst US band. We would often jam
until 4 am. The band was headed by Derek, a half Cherokee Indian and myself
on lead guitar. Both Derek and I were ‘shredders’, which is someone who ‘cuts
heads with the devil’. It was great stuﬀ – a throwback to the 1930s, when
the blues artists would travel to the Mississippi crossroads to sign a deal with
the devil in return for fame, going head-to-head against each other. We were
forever attempting to outperform and challenge each other to greater heights.
Performing is an amazing experience. It’s the feeling of entertaining, rather
than being entertained. You’re sharing a melodic story with an audience. There
is no feeling more powerful that having an audience that is dialling into your
zone. Being a musician on stage, it’s like you’re having sex with the audience.
Of course, groupies came with the territory. I had no idea that so many women
would be attracted to vocalists and lead guitarists in particular.
Any former musician will tell you that they miss the lifestyle of being on the
road and touring. But a savvy and mature musician will also preach that you
take heed of their advice to aerate your mindset or quite possibly, to disassociate
yourself from the industry and save your soul. I spent over three years in LA
and lived the rock guitarist lifestyle. It was a blast. Living and experiencing the
culture of LA was my personal odyssey of self discovery. I returned home to
Australia years later, 300 per cent matured.
THE THRILLIONAIRE® PRINCIPLE
• Have you experienced a spark of life which had begun to ﬂicker?
• Life in the real world rarely goes to plan, are you enjoying the greatness
of the moment?
• Fatigue and illness has the potential to dominate the lives of those who
are living without direction and dreams, does your life currently have